Thursday, December 06, 2007

Monk in the land of churches

At Brain Scam, H. A. Monk takes on Paul Churchland. (For some reason, as I write this, anyway, the post is dated 11/14, but it appeared on my reader on 12/6; plus the post mentions its being two months since the last one, which was on 10/6, so it looks like Blogger is on drugs or something.) He deals effectively with Churchland's latest argument for the identity of color qualia (the "subjective aspects" of color experience) with something called "cone cell coding triplets". I don't know whether the latter is a brain structure or some abstraction about the behavior of some cells in the visual cortex, but it hardly matters as far as I can tell.

This is because the problem is with the "identity theory" itself, not what exactly the "material" relatum amounts to, with which the "qualia" are supposed to be identical. As Monk rightly sums up:
One might say: qualia are a suspect kind of entity anyway, so why should I need a theory to account for them? Fine, but what you can't say is: these qualia you talk about, they just are these coding vectors, and then act like you've explained qualia [...] Similarly [i.e. to a deleted example, which doesn't seem quite right], one can say: I can explain everything there is to explain about sensation without reference to "qualia", so why should I be obliged to give you a separate explanation of them? But that is not what is being offered. Rather, we are told, color qualia exist; they are cone cell coding vectors.
Okay, but I think Monk actually lets Churchland off the hook. I would rather he had stayed with the promising line that explaining sensory experience isn't a matter of either

a) a complete neurophysical explanation, such as the materialist gives us; or

b) (a), corresponding to the "objective" part of the phenomenon in question, plus an explanation of "qualia," or the "subjective" part, where this latter part may simply be ineffable, but in any case necessary, such that without it we have an "explanatory gap".

But instead, he goes into Ned Block mode, telling us essentially that Churchland's proposal leaves something out.
When is Churchland going to wake up and smell the coffee? I'm not sure, but I don't think we should test it by asking him whether he's awake or not; better check his brain scan and let him know. Then do an EEG and see if he's smelling the coffee. With sufficient training he could be taught to look at the EEG and say, "Why, I was smelling coffee!" (This is the flip side of Churchland's utopia, in which we are all so well-informed about cognitive facts that introspection itself becomes a recognition of coding vectors and the like.) Now for the tricky part: turn off the switch in his brain that produces the coffee-smelling qual, and tell him that every morning, rather than having that phenomenological version of the sensation, he will recognize the coffee smell intellectually and be shown a copy of his EEG. And similarly, one by one, for all his other qualia.
This is the same thing everybody says about the Churchlands. (Not the same, but it reminds me of the joke about the behaviorists in the bedroom: "It was good for you; was it good for me too?") It wasn't to the point then, and it's not to the point now. It's true that the materialist answer "leaves something out" conceptually; but the reply cannot be that we can bring this out by separating the third-personal and first-personal aspects of coffee-smelling, and then (by "turn[ing] off a switch in his brain") give him only the former and see if he notices anything missing. That the two are separable in this way just is the Cartesian assumption common to both parties. (Why, for example, should we expect that if he simply "recognize[s] the coffee smell intellectually" his EEG wouldn't be completely different from, well, actually smelling it?) I think we should instead resist the idea that registering the "coffee smell" is one thing (say, happening over here in the brain) and "having [a] phenomenological version of the sensation" is a distinct thing, one that might happen somewhere else, such that I could "turn off the switch" that allows the latter, without thereby affecting the former. That sounds like the "Cartesian Theater" model I would have thought we were trying to get away from.

But rejecting this suspect idea is not at all to return to saying, with the materialist, that (what I called) "registering" the smell and "subjectively experiencing" it are identical, such that we only need the former (so construed). Sensory experience (like cognition and every other "mental" phenomenon) has multiple aspects, of which the "purely" first-person and "purely" third-person aspects are merely the ones most ripe for illegitimate philosophical reification. Better far to tell a story such that these are more easily seen as useful abstractions from a more unitary phenomenon. (On the other hand, go too far in this direction, and you get a big monistic mess, in which subject and object disappear entirely. Opinions differ about Dewey, but Experience and Nature at least threatens to have this result. Subject talk and object talk are indispensable, and we need not render them inaccessible simply in order to block their dualistic reification. But that's another story for another day.)

Monk continues:
Don't say: well, he doesn't deny these qualia exist, after all; he just thinks they are identical to blah-blah-blah... If he thinks they are identical to blah-blah-blah then he should not object in the least if we can produce blah-blah-blah without those illusory folk-psychological phenomena we think are the essence of the matter.
Interestingly, I was at a talk one time where Churchland said just that very thing ("I love qualia!") to Block's predictable objection. (He and Block went back and forth a few times, neither understanding the other, until everybody else started fidgeting.) I'm not defending his answer, except to the extent that I agree that Block's objection is not the right response. Churchland will just say that you can't produce one without the other, because (as I also agree) there's no distinct "experiencer" in the brain; and we shouldn't let him get away with that. After all, we're after the conceptual issue, not the empirical one; and all the proposed experiment would get Churchland to do (if it "worked" at all) is to abandon his empirical proposal that that particular neural candidate was the correct one. All you will have shown is that that neural candidate wasn't sufficient for smelling, when it's the very idea of "identifying" subjective and objective aspects of experience which is incoherent.

Look also at how easy it is, even while saying something basically right, to slip into misleading ways of talking. Monk is rejecting the idea that Churchland's claimed ability to use his neural theory of sensory experience to make "phenomenological prediction from neurological facts" provides any support for it (i.e. for the idea that "the qualia-coding vector relationship is not a mere correlation but an actual identity"). We can do that already, without needing to posit a tendentious "identity" to account for it. Here's Monk's example:
We know that the lens of the eye delivers an inverted image, which is subsequently righted by the brain. This suggests that our brains, without our conscious effort, favor a perspective that places our heads above our feet. (It is also possible that it is simply hard-wired to invert the image 180 degrees, but for various reasons that theory does not hold water.) Prediction: make someone wear inverting glasses, and they will see [an] upside down image at first (the brain inverts it out of habit), but eventually the brain will turn it right side up. It works!
Again, I agree with the general point: we don't need any "identity" here. But the wording seems to leave some of the generating assumptions in place. The lens of the eye does indeed "deliver an inverted image" to the retina (we can even see it, back there). But why say that that image "is subsequently righted by the brain"? Does it need to be "righted" ... in order for us to see it? Again we have an incipient Cartesian Theater. Surely what we see is not the image, but the objects in front of us. Inverting glasses make it seem as if everything is upside down; but after a while we get better at (re-)coordinating our various sensory inputs (primarily vision, touch, and proprioception), and that impression fades (not that one image is replaced by another). There: I told the story "without giving a separate explanation" of the visual anomaly; isn't that what we were supposed to do, rather than demanding a distinct something lacking from the materialist account? It's not a detailed story, as the solely neural one would be; but so what? We can give details on request, depending on the point of the question, and maybe this will require one sort of abstraction from our unified picture, and maybe it'll require a different one. That doesn't mean they're separable (as the qualophile demands).

Churchland also claims, Monk tells us, that "trained musicians 'hear' a piece differently than average audiences." I don't see how this was supposed to help Churchland's case, but Monk objects to the very idea:
That is also a predictable phenomenological fact, but it involves a change in the mental software, through accustomization and training, and does not obviously involve any sensual change. To see a new color or to have fewer distinct sounds reach the brain from the cochlea are sensual changes; to hear more deeply those sounds that do reach the ear, to organize them more efficiently and recognize more relationships between is not a sensual change but an intellectual one that we might metaphorically characterize as "hearing more than others". In fact musicians hear the same thing others hear but understand what they hear in a more lucid way. The sensual phenomena I have mentioned are actual changes in what reaches the brain for processing or in processing at a subliminal level, and do not depend on how we train ourselves to organize the information we receive.
Again, I don't see why we need a dualism between "sensual changes" (i.e. in the sound that reaches the ear) and "hearing [these sounds] more deeply". (Isn't that the fallacy behind the philosophical chestnut "if a tree falls and no-one hears it, does it make any sound?"). I don't see any reason that we are required to say that "musicians hear the same thing others hear," simply because there's a sense (the "objective" one?) in which it's trivially true. As an English speaker, I find it perfectly straightforward (i.e. not necessarily metaphorical) to say that musicians "hear more than others." Nor do I feel obliged to characterize the difference as "intellectual" rather than "sensual," even if the latter sort of change is due to one of the former sort.

So what's the moral? Maybe it's this. In situations like this, it will always seem like there's a natural way to bring out "what's missing" from a reductive account of some phenomenon. We grant the conceptual possibility of separating out (the referent of) the reducing account from (that of) the (supposedly) reduced phenomenon; but then rub in the reducer's face the manifest inability of such an account to encompass what we feel is "missing." But to do this we have presented the latter as a conceptually distinct thing (so the issue is not substance dualism, which Block rejects as well) – and this is the very assumption we should be protesting. On the other hand, what we should say – the place we should end up – seems in contrast to be less pointed, and thus less satisfying, than the "explanatory gap" rhetoric we use to make the point clear to sophomores, who may very well miss the subtler point and take the well-deserved smackdown of materialism to constitute an implicit (or explicit!) acceptance of the dualistic picture.

Surely there's a way to make this point in the Wittgensteinian language of aspect-seeing, but I haven't got it just right yet. How about this: that I see the picture-duck only in seeing the drawing – that the former doesn't ontologically "transcend" the latter, if you like – doesn't mean I have to say they're identical (as the materialist-analogue would have it). If I do that, then I have to tell the same story about the picture-rabbit. But the picture-duck isn't "identical" with the picture-rabbit, which it would have to be if both were identical with the drawing.

But now the solution to this is not to say instead that the picture-duck is different (i.e. a distinct thing) from the drawing, while yet being careful to say (now as the Block-analogue would have it) that the former doesn't after all "transcend" the latter in a metaphysically unpleasant way. In a sense it was right to say that the picture-duck "is" the drawing; the problem was with the nature of that "is". (It depends on what the meaning of "is" is (heh heh).) It's not the "is" of "objective" metaphysical identity; it's the "is" of aspect recognition ("that drawing? It's a duck").

Try it with a different "is" still. The drawing is a picture-duck. Now we have the "is" of predication. It's also a picture-rabbit; but in each case we have the same drawing. That sounds okay at first; but it leaves us with a scheme-content dualism. The experience of aspect-dawning is one of seeing a different picture, not of seeing the same picture differently. Seeing the "same drawing" is too far in one direction, while seeing distinct entities is too far in the other. Or, to sound a Wittgensteinian note from another context: the difference between the picture-duck and picture-rabbit is "not a something, but not a nothing either." (I blush to admit that I can't remember exactly where this line occurs. My defense is that it applies to so much of what he says that it might occur anywhere. Anyone?)

Yet Wittgenstein himself sometimes seems dogmatically to close off what might, if properly conceived, be possible empirical/scientific investigations. This offends my pragmatist sensibilities (Peirce: thou shalt not put roadblocks on the path of inquiry). Here's an example from PI p. 211e:
The likeness makes a striking impression on me; then the impression fades.
It only struck me for a few minutes, and then no longer did.
What happened here?—What can I recall? My own facial expression comes to mind; I could reproduce it. If someone who knew me had seen my face he would have said "Something about his face struck you just now."—There further occurs to me what I say on such an occasion, out loud or to myself. And that is all.—And this is what being struck is? No. These are the phenomena of being struck; but they are 'what happens'.

Is being struck looking plus thinking? No. Many of our concepts cross here.
I like that; but right before this he says:
"Just now I looked at the shape rather than at the colour." Do not let such phrases confuse you. [So far so good; but now:] Above all, don't wonder "What can be going on in the eyes or brain?"
In a way this is right too, in the way the first excerpt was right. Don't wonder that if you thought that was going to provide the answer to our conceptual problem. But surely there is something going on in the brain! Would you tell the neuroscientist to stop investigating vision? Or even think of him/her as simply dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a story already written by philosophy? That gets things backwards. Philosophy doesn't provide answers by itself, to conceptual problems or scientific ones. It untangles you when you run into them; but when you're done, you still have neuroscience to do. Neuroscience isn't going to answer free-standing philosophical problems; but that doesn't mean we should react to the attempt by holding those problems up out of reach. Instead, we should get the scientist to tell the story properly, so that the problems don't come up in the first place. (Wittgenstein credits this insight to Hertz, but we will leave that story for someone more qualified than I to tell.)


DR said...

The line about not a something and not a nothing either ("Sie ist kein Etwas, aber auch nicht ein Nichts!") is from PI 304.

And I think Wittgenstein would agree with you that no line of empirical inquiry should (or could) be closed off by philosophy.

Duck said...

Thanks DR! My favorite parts of PI are before that. But this part is great too. Check it out, everybody:

"But you will surely admit that there is a difference between pain-behaviour accompanied by pain and pain-behaviour without any pain?" [Hmm, someone thinks W is a behaviourist.] Admit it? What greater difference could there be?—"And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a nothing."—Not at all. It is not a something, but not a nothing either! The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said [i.e. because of its essential privacy, like the beetle of §293]. We have only rejected the grammar which tries to force itself on us here.

I would go on, but that's enough for now. As for the other issue, I was probably too quick to attribute that non-pragmatic attitude to W himself. I was probably thinking about how when people (like Monk) argue against the very idea of cognitive science on conceptual grounds, they sometimes do so in W's name. As here, my sympathy with that criticism goes only so far. But we'll get into that later, when I get back to Dennett.

Thanks again!

N. N. said...

"Philosophy doesn't provide answers by itself, to conceptual problems or scientific ones."

Why not to conceptual problems? If the question is "What is it to 'be struck' by a likeness (or whatever)," then what is going on in the brain or eye at the time I am so struck is simply irrelevant. Whatever is going on in the brain or eye, while it may play some role (i.e., as a physical condition), does not figure into the concept of 'being struck.' And that's what we're after. We want to know what 'being struck' amounts to, which is to say, we want to know what this form of words means, what are the (rough) boundaries of the concept. And this is what philosophy is supposed to tell us. As a critique of language, philosopy is supposed to map out the logical geography of this concept.

So while we don't want to close of empirical enquiries, there certainly are limits to what those inquiries can tell us. At most, they can tell us that certain physical processes (in the brain or eye) are inductively well correlated to certain other phenomena (e.g., a facial expression) that are constitutive (in a family-resemblance sort of way) of what it is 'be struck' by a likeness.

Perezoso said...

It's true that the materialist answer "leaves something out" conceptually.

Such as? That the behaviorist --or neurologist---cannot reproduce someone else's sensations or perceptions of color on paper or transmit them to another person does not mean that something is left out, nor does it disprove the "identity" thesis (or bio-dependency of consciousness in older terms): it means that cognitive science has not as of yet been fully worked out.

For a more relevant proof of bio-dependency of mind, try this hypothetical: ingest a pint of Jaegermeister quickly. Then go for a drive on the 101.

(and, funny the penal code actually upholds that rather crude "causal conditional")

Duck said...

I said "Philosophy doesn't provide answers by itself, to conceptual problems or scientific ones"; and N. N. naturally asks:

"Why not conceptual problems?"

Hmmm. I try to walk a fine line here, and perhaps I fell over a bit to one side this time. Let me try again. I am indeed willing to see philosophy as "providing answers" to conceptual problems (as Wittgenstein does here, in untangling the conceptual mess). I'm even willing (pace "Wittgensteinian" "quietism") to see some of those answers as taking the form (in the context) of philosophical "doctrines." So I shouldn't have said that. I just wanted to register the therapeutic aspect of the "answer" here. ("pace Wittgensteinian quietism"! Get it?? Honestly, I'm such a card. But there's a point there too ... )

"So while we don't want to close off empirical enquiries, there certainly are limits to what those inquiries can tell us."

I agree, but I'm not convinced that we should construe the nature of those limits in the way you do. It just sounds like a conceptual/empirical dualism. It's true that you can pick up the issue from the conceptual end. But I take "mapping the logical geography" of a concept to mean explaining its uses in such a way as to "reject the [misleading] grammar that [all too often, in concert with misguided philosophy] tries to force itself on us [thus creating "philosophical problems," the kinds with deflationary rather than "constructive" "answers"]." And delineating the proper arrangement of empirical uses of a concept seems to me inseparable from what those empirical uses actually are, which is itself inseparable from the states of affairs they are used to describe – that is, actual empirical results.

So while in some sense it's true that "what is going on in the brain or eye at the time I am so struck is simply irrelevant" – which is why I was able to say what I did without using any neuroscience – in another sense it isn't. Empirical results can and do affect our philosophical understanding of them. How could they not? They provide the content for our map. If they were different then so would the map be. Often – even most of the time – this is trivial, allowing us to ignore the particular details of the empirical results (as here). But sometimes it isn't – and we can't know ahead of time when that will be, but instead deal with the results (and, most likely, the resulting conceptual confusion) when they come in.

That won't be enough, but I'll leave the rest for later. (It's a Davidsonian thing.)

Daniel said...

I'm not sure why saying we "see the same drawing" in the different aspects (now a duck, now a rabbit) leads to scheme-content dualism. But then I'm inclined to say "we see the same drawing, and different drawings" -- and this not in a contradictory sense, since what "same drawing" and "different drawing" get at here can be fleshed out in ways that don't entail anything (A&~A)-ish. ("See, both the duck and the rabbit are printed with the same lines of ink. But the lines look one way when you see them as forming a duck, and another way when you see them as forming a rabbit. So, both same and different.") But it also seems fine to me to say that we have a "single drawing" that appears in different ways, or multiple drawings formed from a single set of lines, or several other ways of describing the duckrabbit. "Speak as you please, so long as you don't lose sight of the facts" and all that.

If by "The duckrabbit is a single drawing which can be seen in different ways" one meant that the drawing is really, say, just lines without any particular form (the "single drawing"), and that the duck and the rabbit are both interpretations of those plain lines, then I can see the scheme-content worries: the "plain lines" are just another aspect of the duckrabbit, just another way the lines can be seen, and not something "merely empirical" for a "conceptual scheme" to organize. (This was actually my first response to W's duckrabbit in PI -- it didn't look like much of anything; I still think it's a pretty poor excuse for a rabbit.) But I don't think that this scheme-content-y thought is forced on everyone who wants to say the duck and the rabbit are the "same drawing" or "same image" or "same picture".

On the issue of "conceptual problems": It seems plausible to me that there might be "conceptual problems" (as opposed to "empirical problems") which are not answered by philosophy. A judge resolving apparently contradictory laws in a court-ruling, for example. Or possibly things like Einstein's theories -- Einstein did not make additional empirical inquiries to formulate his theories, but took some of the problems which were already known in existing systems of physics and resolved them by fiddling with concepts like "mass", "space", and their mathematical stand-ins. Or possibly the sorts of redescriptions of problematic situations one finds in counseling, or in novels. I'm not inclined to call any of these "philosophy", nor do any of them strike me as "empirical problems"; in each case the empirical is held constant, so to speak -- the judge, the theorist, the counselor, and the novelist do not need to call for further experimentation to solve their problems (at least not in every case). So this would seem to be a sense in which there are conceptual problems, but it's not philosophy's task to solve them. (I'm not sure how well I like this paragraph. There are certainly ways in which philosophy is like jurisprudence, scientific theorizing, psychotherapy, and creative writing, so it's probably too fast to just say that these are "not philosophy". Duck's right that this is a tricky line to walk.)

"So while in some sense it's true that "what is going on in the brain or eye at the time I am so struck is simply irrelevant" – which is why I was able to say what I did without using any neuroscience – in another sense it isn't. Empirical results can and do affect our philosophical understanding of them. How could they not? They provide the content for our map."
It seems to me that one might say that the details of what goes on in the eye and brain are irrelevant to questions of, say, whether the objects of perception are distal or proximal, direct or representational. Though of course what I'm doing with my eyes (along with my brain and other organs) when I see something is just what I'm concerned with when I try to clear up a conceptual issue about visual perception. Certainly my visual experience (and what I know about my capacity for visual experiences) is not floating free of the conceptual issues I'm worried about here; the conceptual issues bother me because of their intimate link to my own experiences, and my experience involves the concepts I'm concerned with. (Indeed, trying to decide which concepts are appropriate for describing what my experiencing an object involves is just what the conceptual problem is.) But I have a hard time seeing how neuroscience could be helpful in quandaries of this sort. Which is an entirely separate question from whether or not neuroscience generally is tilting at windmills. Plenty of "empirical" questions about the mind that neuroscience might be able to answer, like "How can we cure congenital blindness?" and "How can we suppress visual hallucinations in schizophrenics?". These are questions about the mind as opposed to the brain (they're posed in psychological vocabulary), but they are still clearly in the domain of medicine, not philosophy. And it would be possible for them to be answered without our understanding the biochemical processes "underlying" our medicine. (We might develop a useful antipsychotic drug by trial and error, through refining previous drugs, without at any point having a good story about what we're doing "at the neural level". Or even at a higher biological level; we might be only able to describe our progress in psychological vocabulary, with talk of minds, seeings, etc..)

That was kinda rambly. In related news, Vicodin is a heckuva pill.

Duck said...

Thanks Daniel as always. Rambly is okay. In fact maybe that's appropriate here where we have to look at things from a bunch of angles. But it can make it hard to see if we agree.

Re: the first part of your comment, I think we do agree. "Speak as you please ... " is a good moral. Is that the actual quote? (if so where is it? I love LW but I forget where he says what.) The time I saw him Conant said (on his own behalf, not quoting) "we can say whatever we want as long as we don't get confused," which is also good. Problems arise when we take one way of talking to be forced on us by "the facts themselves" (i.e. plus our unexamined philosophical commitments, which are really doing the forcing). So when I criticize a particular way of talking, it is usually to worry about it being misleading (say, in leaving a relevantly problematic assumption in place) rather than it being Wrong. Yet we can indeed speak of "facts" here. The picture *is* a picture-rabbit, and if you're not seeing it you're missing something. (Bonus: you've given me the impetus for another post.)

"It seems to me that one might say that the details of what goes on in the eye and brain are irrelevant to [philosophical/conceptual] questions".

Okay, but now this is starting to sound analytic: what will count for us as the "details" *just is* what is irrelevant to our philosophical question.

"But I have a hard time seeing how neuroscience could be helpful in quandaries of this sort."

Let's say you're burdened with a hopelessly Cartesian view of the mind. This is a philosophical issue, not an empirical one. Neuroscience can't decide it for us. I agree with all that.

In the ("purely"?) philosophical context, we've been hammering away at this conception ever since Kant (or even Spinoza, depending on how you look at it; but from the present perspective Kant's looks more like the key advance). That hasn't (*cough*) been universally successful. So nowadays we use thought experiments like brains in vats to capture, and then (with our counterexamples or other analyses) dismiss the relevant confused but tenacious intuitions. (Of course Kant uses thought experiments too, or at least examples, like left-handed gloves and cinnabar and 7 + 5 = 12 and whatnot.)

But for a lot of people (including most philosophers, alas) this hasn't worked either. Maybe it's still too abstract, or too removed from things we can see (that brains in vats are hard to imagine may be the point, but it also makes that point paradoxically hard to grasp). So Dennett tries something else. Forget thought experiments. How about *actual* experiments (concerning eye saccades or whatever), or even weird clinical phenomena that we didn't have to "set up" at all (Nicolas Gage, blindsight, blindness denial, other Oliver Sacks-y things). These aren't abstract at all: they're full-fledged empirical phenomena, well within the domain of neuroscience, and demanding neuroscientific explanation ("Doctor, what's wrong with me?").

So let's listen in when neuroscientists explain them. They say things like "well, there's no one part of the brain where "the experience of vision" takes place; different parts of the brain are responsible for different aspects of it, and there's no one place where they "come together". [Insert long complicated description of neurological "details" here.] That's what accounts for these weird phenomena."

Now if you ask neuroscientists, they'll say their explanation consists in the long complicated description I redacted, and the rest of it was an informal gloss on it for our convenience. It's not required by the data, but it seems to be the natural way to talk, and it helps dispel some of the mysterious nature of these phenomena (how can someone sincerely deny that they're blind?) But that part – and that result – is just what we philosophers are interested in.

Let's say this does the trick. Will we say that the problem was "solved by neuroscience"? That's a stretch, as I wouldn't count it as "doing the trick" until we had really incorporated that way of talking (i.e as an option) into our thinking about the whole range of subjects (and ways of talking about them) for which the Cartesian conception of mind is causing conceptual problems. That's for philosophers to do (and have been trying to do already, well before the theoretical-neuroscientific Johnny Come Latelies). And of course there's no necessary connection (as it can seem to materialists that there is) between appealing to neuroscience and fighting Cartesianism (as for my money materialism is just as Cartesian as dualism – just as "dualistic" even).

But it seems to me just as much of a stretch, in the good cases, to say that neuroscience was irrelevant here (the mere supplier of details), or even that (in a limited way) it was less than *instrumental*. That some of us didn't need to turn to neuroscience doesn't mean that it can't help to do so. Nothing's going to make neuroscience into philosophy, so I don't see the point in insisting on sharp disciplinary lines between the theoretical aspects of (still strictly) empirical science and the more specific manifestations of philosophical ideas (qua philosophical). The problem with Churchland was not that he was turning to neuroscience at all, but that even before he does so we can tell that his project was doomed to failure, whatever the neuroscientists say.

Daniel said...

The quote was from memory; PI 79 actually reads "Say what you choose, so long as it does not prevent you from seeing the facts. (And when you see them there is a good deal that you will not say.)" I have PI in searchable PDF form, which makes looking these things up a good bit easier. (Though typos can be a problem. It's not the best scan in the world.)

"Okay, but now this is starting to sound analytic: what will count for us as the "details" *just is* what is irrelevant to our philosophical question."
Point taken.

On reflection, reports of weird psychological phenomena certainly were helpful (to me) in getting away from a view of first-person authority as relying on some sort of "introspection" of mental facts. I suppose I can see how other weird phenomena could be helpful in dispelling other bits of Cartesianism. I should probably pick up "Sweet Dreams".

Also, did you mean Phineas Gage? He's the railroad-spike-through-the-head guy. Nicolas Gage appears to be some sort of Irish nobleman. If "the current Viscount Gage of Firle Place" has something to do with cognitive science, Google is not helping me figure out what it could be.

Duck said...

Sweet Dreams is definitely worthwhile, but as far as "intuition pumps" go, there are probably more per unit area in Consciousness Explained.

And yes, I do mean *Phineas* Gage. I probably said "Nicholas" because I really dislike Nicholas *Cage*, so much so that a spike through the head seems like just the ticket.

Perezoso said...

S-Dan, for an informative debate on these sorts of issues google around for the dialoque of Dr. Changeux and Ricoeur from a few years ago, who on occasion quotes St. Wittgenstein as well. Dr. Changeux mostly defeats Ricoeur's various gambits--whether Cartesian, Wittgensteinian, or theological--in a manner of moves, including the supposed denials of iso-morphism (between brain structure and thinking) that some metaphysicians take for argument.

Moreover, the sort of pejorative "materialist" accusations of d-r are mostly "bad air" as Nietzsche would say: modern neurology is not some Democritus-like billard-ball model of causality, but involves highly complex bio-chemical models that are just beginning to be unravelled (yet Wm James himself had suggested a physiological sort of analysis of consciousness a century ago, did he not) .

While various cortical areas have been correlated with brain functions, from syntax/semantics, quantitative reasoning, memory, etc., the Changeux's (and Churchlands, and Pinker perhaps in that group) grant that a complete isomorphism remains years if not decades away. But at some point in the next few decades humans more than likely will neurally-interface with digital-networks ala Strange Days, if not William Gibson...................

colin said...

I haven't read all the comments(some of them are long!), but that is definitely not going to stop me.

1. mind-brain identity theory is incoherent because there can be no physical fact about subjective experience and all experience is subjective. qualia is just the most obvious example, but really science can't describe how my computer appears to me. it can construct a way in which the computer appears, but i experience the computer subjectively.

2. neuroscience is a good thing. understanding the brain from a scientific perspective is important for many reasons and will probably be beneficial.

3. however this does not mean that understanding the brain will mean we understand consciousness. this is because that even if consciousness is somehow rooted in the brain, that does not mean that consciousness is limited to the brain. i am conscious of my entire body and the way in which i interact with the world is through my body. i have no idea how to relate to the world through my mind (though it seems like Professor X can and I am quite jealous).

N. N. said...

I've posted some incomplete thoughts over at my blog:

colin said...

can you feel the continental love??

Duck said...

Yes, some interesting comments over there. I've noticed that commenters at LR often turn down Leiter's invitation to abuse Continentals.

Duck said...

Anton has responded here (or click the link below, either one). So let's go over there; but of course if my response gets unwieldy I'll do a separate post here.